I´m in Portugal this weekend, my last break here before the permanent move here in August. Those familiar with this part of the world will know that one of the things that stands between them and true civilization is a profusion of street dogs and cats. I can´t remember the last time I saw one in UK or Germany; even farmyard animals are well groomed. I get the impression that German cows won´t even take a shit if anyone´s watching. We northern Europeans just don´t abandon our pets so never get to see them as feral beings. So, we´re brought up to regard cats rather like T S Eliot did; interesting characters that are a bit too close to human for comfort. Or perhaps it´s that which makes them comforting? Seeing them on the street changes all that, though. These are domestic creatures abandoned to a world which knows them not and they are left to the tattered rags of instinctual memory tied up somewhere in their genes.
Our place is set amongst similar villas on a manicured road that sees goats being herded from one scrubby field to the next, with their curly horns, cloven hooves, jangling bells and a chorus of barking dogs. Swimming pools and millionaire´s pads butt up against scrubland; the civilized world nuzzles against the unpolished, untainted natural one. The abandoned know their place; they live amongst the discarded refuse from the villas in great wheelie bins whose lids are usually open. It stinks. It´s verminous. The rubbish crawls with flies and kittens.
Luis wants to make their brief lives a little better but can´t catch them and is allergic to cats in any case. Amongst them are two tiny kittens, only a few weeks old, completely blind with their eyes all mattered-up with some hideous infection. One has an eye swollen to the size of a red grape and the poor creature is probably beyond salvation. Sightless, it feels its way around its new life, ventures across the road on trembling legs and tries to hide from the sounds that threaten it in a world of horror and fear. Its mother, equally afflicted, hisses and protects it so that it can die in peace. Luis leaves them all water and food. The gardeners take it all away again.
One of the blind kittens is found the next day, flattened into the tarmac. The car probably never even felt the bump. As for the other, it has vanished. And there´s nothing we can do for any of them.
I don´t think I´ll ever be able to read Old Possum in quite the same was again.